Nova Scotian Settlers (Sierra Leone)

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The Nova Scotian Settlers or Sierra Leone Settlers, (also known as the Nova Scotians or more commonly as The 'Settlers) were African Americans who migrated from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone and founded the settlement of Freetown and the second colony of Sierra Leone on March 11, 1792. The majority of these black immigrants were among 3000 former slaves and free blacks known as Black Loyalists[1] who sought refuge with the British during the American Revolutionary War.[2] The Nova Scotian settlers were jointly led by former soldier Thomas Peters and John Clarkson, an English abolitionist and first governor of Freetown, who became a respected friend and patron of the Nova Scotian settlers.

Although the Maroons and other transatlantic immigrants contributed toward the development of Freetown, the Nova Scotian Settlers were the single greatest Western black influence on the making of Freetown, Sierra Leone and their legacy remains there till this day.[citation needed] For most of the 19th century the Settlers resided in Settler Town; today their descendants are found among the Sierra Leone Creole people. The Nova Scotian settlers have been the subject of many social science books which have examined how the Nova Scotians brought 'America' to Africa as the founders of the first permanent ex-slave colony in West Africa which proved quite influential throughout the region.

From 1792 to the late 19th century the Settlers remained a distinct ethnic group within Sierra Leone. Some loan words in the Krio language and the "bod oses" of their modern day descendants, the Creoles, are considered to be one of the cultural imprints still present in Creole culture that the Settlers brought from America.

Background and immigration to Nova Scotia[edit]

After the British lost the American War of Independence, 3,000 Black Americans were evacuated to Nova Scotia and their names were recorded in the Book of Negroes. Nearly two thirds of the Nova Scotian settlers were from Virginia. The second largest group of settlers were from South Carolina, and a smaller number were from Maryland, Georgia, and North Carolina. Thomas Jefferson referred to these people as "the fugitives from these States".[3] One visitor to Sierra Leone distinguished the Settlers from other ethnic groups because of the "American tone" or accent, common to American slaves and lower class North American working-class people of the time.[4] Some of the settlers also had Native American or European ancestry; at least fifty were born in Africa. Many Nova Scotian blacks intermarried with Europeans while living in Sierra Leone. The Nova Scotians' political ideology of a democratic government was at odds with the Sierra Leone Company's imperialistic colony. The Nova Scotians referred to themselves as the "Settlers" or "Nova Scotians" in Sierra Leone. Later scholars would describe them as "Afro-American".[5]

Life in Nova Scotia[edit]

Upon arrival in Nova Scotia, the Black Loyalist settlers faced many difficulties. They received less land, fewer provisions and were paid lower wages than White Loyalists.[6] Some fell into debt and had to sign terms of indentured servitude which resembled their former enslavement in America. In 1792, approximately 1,192 Black Nova Scotian settlers[7] left Halifax, Nova Scotia and immigrated to Sierra Leone. (However the majority of free blacks did remain in Nova Scotia where their descendants today comprise the Black Nova Scotians, one of the oldest communities of Black Canadians.)[6] The Nova Scotian settlers to Sierra Leone spoke Gullah and early forms of African American Vernacular English. The Nova Scotians were the only mass group of black Americans to immigrate to Sierra Leone under the auspices of the Sierra Leone Company; it was de facto policy that because of the democratic and 'American' ideals of the Nova Scotians no other American blacks would be allowed to immigrate in large groups to Sierra Leone.

Fifteen ships, the first fleet to return of Free blacks to Africa, left Halifax Harbour on January 15, 1792 and arrived in Sierra Leone between February 28-March 9, 1792.

Settler Town[edit]

Upon reaching Sierra Leone in 1792, the Nova Scotians founded and established Free Town based upon the grid of a North American colonial town plan, which caused tensions when the Nova Scotians found the best waterfront land was reserved for the Sierra Leone Company.[8] After the Maroons immigrated, the Settler part of Freetown was known as Settler Town.

The town was in close proximity to Cline Town or then, Granville Town. Eighty percent of Nova Scotians lived on five streets: Rawdon, Wilberforce, Howe, East, and Charlotte street. Seventy percent of Maroons lived on five streets: Glouchester, George, Trelawney, Walpole, and Westmoreland street. The main Nova Scotian churches were in Settler Town; Rawdon Street Methodist Church was one of the main churches Methodist churches. The modern day Ebenezer Methodist Church is an offshoot of Rawdon Methodist; it was founded by wealthy Nova Scotians. Many Settler families were forced to sell their land because of debt; families such as the Balls, the Burdens, the Chambers, the Dixons, the Georges (descendants of David George), the Keelings, the Leighs, the Moores, the Peters (descendants of Thomas Peters or Stephen Peters), the Prestons, the Snowballs, the Staffords, the Turners, the Willoughsby, the Zizers, the Williams, and the Goodings. Some descendants of James Wise and other settlers were able to keep their land in Settler Town.

Relationship with Granville Town settlers[edit]

The Granville Town settlers were initially separate from the Nova Scotian community. After Methodist teaching to the Granville Town settlers, they were slowly incorporated into the Black Americans society of the Nova Scotians. Nova Scotians like Boston King were schoolteachers to the children of Granville Town settlers. However up until 1800, the 'Old Settlers' as the Granville Towners were called, remained in their own town.

French attack[edit]

During the French war with Britain which had been declared in 1793,[9] the French attacked and burned Freetown. The Settlers offered the only resistance to the French during this time period. The settlers assured the French they were "Americans from North America" and were friends of the French. Despite showing they were Americans, the French still carried off two Nova Scotian boys as slaves. Zachary Macauley demanded all the supplies the Nova Scotians had managed to take from the French back. Many a Methodist preacher declared it was the judgment of God against their evil Caucasian oppressors. The aftermath of this resulted in Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan establishing their own colony on Pirate's Bay to live as free men just as the Ezerlites.[10][11][12]

Trade[edit]

The Nova Scotians were exceptional traders and some of the houses they built in Settler Town, which were initially built of wood with stone foundations, were renovated or upgraded into stone houses. At this time, the Nova Scotians lived in Eastern Freetown and the Jamaican Maroons were situated in Western Freetown. The Maroons were still distinct but became a more solid group and adopted some Settler values and customs. The Maroons became a cohesive trading unit, they displaced the Nova Scotians as the main traders in Sierra Leone in the 1820s. Nova Scotian traders such as Cato Preston, Eli Ackim, William Easmon, and John Kizell were forced to give up their homes because of business ventures gone wrong. In the 1826 census about half of the Nova Scotian males were skilled artisans and only three were listed as unskilled workers. Initially, the Nova Scotians were allowed to use the American currency, dollars and cents, by the Sierra Leone Company; however restrictions were later imposed when the company wanted reduced American economic influence. Trade was opened up with the United States in 1831 but grew only slowly, mainly though smuggling.[13]

Culture[edit]

The Settlers had dance nights called 'Koonking' or 'Koonken' or 'Konken,' where Settler maidens would sing songs they brought from Colonial America or songs originating in Sierra Leone satirizing Europeans. An analysis of extant letters written the settlers has shown a majority of Settlers spoke a variant of English, typical of American English as spoken by people drawn from the lower classes, regardless of whether White or Black.[4] James Walker noted that Settler pronunciation and grammar originated in the American South and was "perpetuated as the language of their preachers and teachers, and was regarded, in the nineteenth century, as a distinct dialect."[14] Many Nova Scotians drank alcohol heavily and David George and David Edmonds kept alehouses in the 1790s. Settler women were independent[15] and were employed as schoolteachers and in other roles.[16] Some established schools and acted as schoolteachers.[citation needed] Extramarital affairs were also prominent in the community and some Settler men had mistresses and provided for their illegitimate children; many times they left land and property for them in their wills.

The majority of Nova Scotians were Methodist or members of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion; a smaller minority were Baptist. One half to two thirds of the Nova Scotians were Methodist; the former Anglican settlers converted to Methodism and the Methodists incorporated Moses Wilkinson's congregation, Boston King's congregation, and Joseph Leonard's Anglican congregation which was openly Methodist.

British policy toward American blacks[edit]

Because of friction between the independent Nova Scotia settlers and British authorities, no further resettlement of Freed American slaves followed. When the Elizabeth from New York arrived[when?]with 82 black Americans, the British did not permit them to land or settle in Freetown. These black Americans, led by Daniel Coker, were offered land to settle in Sherbro by John Kizell an African-born Nova Scotian settler. After the terrible conditions for the settlers at Sherbro, they were moved to land in the Grain Coast; the black Americans who moved there in 1820 were the first settlers of what would be Liberia. In the War of 1812, the British considered Sierra Leone as a home for the Black Refugees, another generations of Africans who escaped American slavery, but chose to settle them in Nova Scotia and the West Indies instead. The Nova Scotians in the 1830s and 40s would be faced with large-scale settlement of Africans freed from slave ships by the British Royal Navy's anti-slave trade campaign.

Relationship with Black Nova Scotians and black Americans[edit]

Some of the settlers bore children during their nine year sojourn in Nova Scotia]; these children were Black Nova Scotians but retained many cultural habits similar to Black Americans. The descendants of the Nova Scotian settlers (who are the Sierra Leone Creole people) are the related to both Black Nova Scotians and Black Americans.

Notable Nova Scotian Settlers[edit]

Descendants of the Settlers[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Schama, Simon, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution, Viking Canada (2005) p. 11
  2. ^ Birchtown Plaque "The Black Loyalists AT Birchtown" (1997)
  3. ^ Jefferson, Thomas. "To John Lynch Monticello, January 21, 1811." American History.
  4. ^ a b 'Some grammatical characteristics of the Sierra Leone letters' by Charles Jones, in Our Children Free and Happy: Letters from Black Settlers in Africa in the 1790s, edited by Christopher Fyfe, Edinburgh University Press, 1991, p82
  5. ^ Brown, Wallace, The Black Loyalists in Canada, United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada (1990), p. 14 online publication featured in "Our Roots / Nos Racines" website
  6. ^ a b "Black Loyalists 1783-1792". Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management. 
  7. ^ Clarkson's mission to America 1791-1792, edited by Charles Bruce Fergusson, Public Archives of Nova Scotia (1971) p. 28
  8. ^ The town grid was laid out by the Sierra Leone company's British surveyor Richard Pepys. Schama, pp. 352-253
  9. ^ Brooks, George E. (2010). Western Africa and Cabo Verde, 1790s-1830s: Symbiosis of Slave and Legitimate Trades. AuthorHouse. p. 12. ISBN 9781452088716. 
  10. ^ Sidbury, James (2007). Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 111–112. ISBN 9780198043225. 
  11. ^ Walker, James W. St. G. (1992). The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. University of Toronto Press. p. 184. ISBN 9780802074027. 
  12. ^ Aravamudan, Srinivas (1999). Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688-1804. Duke University Press. p. 266. ISBN 9780822323150. 
  13. ^ Duignan, Peter; Gann (1987). The United States and Africa: A History. Cambridge University Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-521-33571-3. 
  14. ^ Walker 1992, p. 207.
  15. ^ Morton, Suzanne (1993). "Separate Spheres in a Separate World: African-Nova Scotian Women in late-19th-Century Halifax County". Acadiensis 22 (2). p. 62. ISSN 0044-5851. 
  16. ^ Walker 1992, p. 191, 207.

External links[edit]